Despite headlines that would lead us to believe that the country has ditched its cosmopolitan diet in favour of less exciting long-life ambient goods, sales surged for specialist food and drink in Spring 2020. Perhaps consumers are in pursuit of something a little different to brighten up these dark times or have developed a newfound appreciation for a quality product. Either way, the nation has spoken, and it is demanding authenticity and tradition as well as volume and availability.
If you produce a specialist product, are technology and traditional food production perfectly married to meet these demands? With the pandemic disruption set to continue and all signs pointing toward a permanent reevaluation of consumer priorities, is your food and drink manufacturing operation able to deliver the product – and the process – the market wants?
The secret to success in this changed climate is undoubtedly balancing how man and machine interact with one another. Artisan and specialist manufacturers are increasingly harnessing innovation in the form of automation and artificial intelligence, changing the relationship between technology and traditional food production. They’re gradually moving toward widescale adoption and complete integration, but in a way that respects time-honored production methods. Such as those in the dairy, bakery, and spirits sub-sectors.
Never one to shy away from innovation, the food and drink manufacturing industry is acutely aware that it needs to invest to grow, with end-to-end automation hailed as the way forward. Properly specified automation can enable specialist manufacturers to produce more, in larger batches but without sacrificing the character and identity of a product – a win for capacity and efficiency, and a win for quality and individuality too.
For many businesses to achieve this, a rethink of IT infrastructure is in order. However, the right IT solutions will not demand you rip everything out and start again, or force absolute automation if the result would compromise your product, business vision and processes. They will marry systems, operational processes and the people with that all-important product knowledge to champion your objective.
For example, the best projects will redistribute workload to where the most value is added by either man or machine. Instead of removing manual labour from the equation, artisanal tasks that must be performed by hand remain unchanged. But jobs that do not require the human touch will be completed by a computer system to deliver improved consistency and efficiency.
Robotics and other advanced technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT) devices can also be implemented to monitor and control variability factors, key product parameters and quality attributes while delivering real-time insights that allow for quick reactions. A perfect example of modernisation collaborating with years of heritage and personal experience! Integrating IoT with ERP and allowing production hardware and software to talk to one another can similarly monitor timings and procedural performance to ensure optimal manufacturing output.
How long will the pandemic last? The answer isn’t clear yet. But we do know that every food and drink manufacturer deserves to come out fighting stronger, not just coping. Making changes to your IT now (respective to budget) and making an effort to modernise will help you to adapt to current consumer appetite, overcome production challenges and put you in the best position for growth. Re-evaluating how and where technology and traditional food production can interact is critical.
Sentis are experts in specifying, leading and delivering projects that help food and drink manufacturers get the most from their processes – whether traditional or modernised. Click here to ask about a consultation.